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This is a cross post from the American Society of Business Publication Editor’s national blog.

Engage or Die: Why your publication must embrace social media

Would I like you to click the link and read the post? Yes, but that is not the point of this particular post. I am bringing it to your attention to highlight a different lesson altogether. It’s one that I believe is greatly overlooked but can be done almost daily, and without a great amount of effort if you’re passionate about a topic.

Let me tell you how I got the opportunity to blog over there.

It all came from a thoughtful comment I left on a post that was recognized by the editor who later contacted me and asked me to write on a specific subject. That was not my goal when I left the comment. I was just doing what I do: Participate in the conversation, add value when I have it to offer and share my passion about online communities, social media, journalism and a few other topics that I pretty much live and breathe.

But the opportunities didn’t stop there. I was also asked to come speak to a group of editors in Washington, DC next month. All from one little comment.

Do you see the amazing value in that?

This is why I always say that we have to communicate like the whole world is watching. Chris Brogan often talks about providing value and readily sharing what you know. I think comments is one of he easiest ways to do that on a large scale.

Have you ever seen entire posts on popular blogs that stem from the comments? That is often where the reading gets good and the conversations reach a whole new level.

There’s power in the comment box. Share what you know, and scour the comments section of your own posts for nuggets of wisdom and ask for more. It’s the ultimate community builder.

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Wait!

Before you hit the send, reply, submit or post buttons, ask yourself this question? Do I want the whole world to see this?

While the “whole world” concept may seem a bit dramatic, if something you’ve written gets in front of the wrong set of eyeballs it will certainly feel as though the whole world has seen it.

While it is never our intention to flat out embarrass ourselves, plenty of people do it everyday and I think it can be avoided rather easily.

How you might ask? By operating like a public official. As a journalist, I know that I can submit a Public Records Request and get copies of emails received and sent by anyone whose salary is paid by taxpayers. So, even though my salary is paid by a private company, I operate as if I’m accountable to the masses.

As the Managing Editor of an online community my written words are often shared publicly and I am extremely aware of that. What that does is make me communicate very carefully and with an amazing amount of tact, even when the situation may warrant a different type of response.

If a member attacks me in an e-mail, I respond professionally even when it kills me. What I’ve found is sometimes my response prompts them to change their tune and a real conversation often follows. That isn’t *always* the case but it happens often enough.

I received an email from a member a few days ago about a woman she thought was attempting to scam the community with fund raising efforts for her terminally ill son. She had conducted quite a bit of research and shared the results in the email.

I didn’t bash the woman but I did indicate in my reply that I was going to remove the blog from the homepage immediately, investigate further and remove her from the community completely if she was running a scam.

Well, the member who emailed me posted my entire response in a blog warning the community to be leery about the woman in question. I didn’t know she would do that because it was an e-mail between the two of us and quite honestly I was not thinking about it when I responded. But boy am I glad that I’ve programmed myself to be careful with my responses. That could have been ugly.

The point of this post is simply to raise your awareness. You never know where your words will end up, so be careful.

Reputation management should start with you.

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Online Community Strategist

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Some alarming news out of Maui this week.

Alarming to me that is.

Anyone who has read this blog on a regular basis or some of the comments I post on various journalism, and social media focused blogs, knows that I am an advocate of user-generated content, particularly allowing comments on news stories.

So, when I learned about the Maui News killing comments all because of, (get this) ABUSE I saw it as a huge loss and felt extremely disappointed. I still am, and it’s days later.

Of course there’s abuse!!! This is the internet, and we all know that the cloak of anonymity can bring out the worst in people. It’s all laid out in detail in this MSNBC.com story.

But abuse can be managed. This is not that difficult. The answer as I’ve said time and time again, is to hire moderators. This can be done and done well, without stifling the conversation. Moderation is not the end of the world. It can be the beginning of a new world where a news site can actually have civil discourse generated by users, connected to their content.

Set guidelines, but be fair. Don’t give up altogether.

Suggesting that internet users opt for sending in letters to the editor as opposed to leaving a real-time comment is pretty, well…old media.

Engage your community. Give them a voice.

But set limits. Make “civil discourse” the goal and define what that means. If you weed out the crap while being fair and consistent, you might be pleasantly surprised.

Just don’t give up.
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Have you ever come across a comment on a news story that you knew should not be there? I’m specifically talking about on websites where the comments are moderated.

We already know that a large percentage of comments on newspaper websites are not moderated by humans, but simply vetted by a filter which can only do so much against the clever commenter’s of today who are intent on spewing hate and pushing their crude agendas. So, when you see those types of comments on those type of websites, you’re usually not shocked.

But, comments on certain types of stories can make it past the best team of moderator’s when the moderator isn’t well-versed on the topic or is faced with some other “barrier to entry.”

That barrier can be cultural or racial. It can be caused by a generation gap, geographical differences and even personal backgrounds.

It’s important to remember that news stories are extremely diverse and the content runs the gamut.

So, much like news organizations have strived to build newsrooms that reflect the community, it’s important that those who are now dealing with content submitted by the community have diverse backgrounds as well, so that they can work to decipher what is being said, and whether or not it’s appropriate.

In my next post, I will share several resources that moderator’s can turn to when faced with unknown acronyms, clever slang and other types of content and innuendo that’ likely not the type of content you’d want affiliated with your organization.

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While catching up on my twitter reading tonight, I came across this comment from Patrick Thornton aka jiconoclast:

I want to talk about comments some more. It seems to be that building community has to start from the beginning.

I have to disagree with that. Now, I’m the first person to rag on newspapers for moving at a snails pace, requiring that even the most minor decisions are made by committee and for blatantly ignoring the obvious for years through institutionalized denial and arrogance.

But, I’m not sure that many news organizations were aware of, or expected the kind of drama that comments connected to news stories would bring. Yes, it’s ugly and it will only get worse before it gets better. But it can be done. I know this for a fact.
We moderate comments on news stories at WRAL.com and as the Managing Editor of User-Generated Content, I am largely responsible for the policies that come along with it. Comments weren’t always moderated, but we took control of the content associated with our brand, made the change, and we’re still going strong. Do we get complaints? Yes, but not nearly as many as you would think and most importantly, people also know that they can come to us and engage in civil conversations about the issues that affect them and the community they live in.

So, is it too late? No! I think all news organizations should moderate comments, and the sooner the better. Would it have been ideal to start from the beginning? Possibly. But, you may even score points for changing the situation for the better.

It’s no secret that I am passionate about user comments on news stories. I am an advocate for user-generated content and building online communities. I take every opportunity I find to comment on blogs about comments.

I believe I will continue to do that for quite some time. At least five years. Well, maybe two. We’ll just have to see what happens after that. In an ideal world, most news organizations will have realized that they need to embrace comments and hire the staff to manage them by then. If that happens, I will have to find another soap box, but that’s okay. I’m sure I will.

Providing the community with a platform is the ultimate community service, in my opinion, and it’s an important and highly valuable service. It just has to be managed. Set your expectations ans uphold them. Create a community standard! It’s not that hard.

So if you see a post about comments, or you write a post about comments within the next two years, send me the URL so I can add my two-cents. Or, just leave it in the comments area below.

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This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer. Feel free to challenge me, disagree with me, or tell me I’m completely nuts in the comments section of each blog entry.

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